Who will rescue the kidnapped infant prince… and will they save him… or kill him? Find out in LIGHT OF THE OUTSIDER!

"I make things for people who like the kinds of things I make."
Author | Creator | Consultant

Light of the Outsider

Storyworld: The Shaper’s World | Series Name: The Outsider Trilogy
Reading Order: 01 | Stand Alone? Yes
Genres: Crime, Fantasy, Fiction, Literary, Thriller | Editions: Audiobooks, E-Book, Printed Books, Quality Paperback

In this stand-alone character-driven fantasy thriller debuting a brand-new, original world, desperate people vie to find a kidnapped prince before magical and political pressures threaten the stability of the entire continent and millions of lives.

“The invitation was a trap…”

For menial palace servants Sot and Lama, the infant prince represents a means to finally escape their disappointing, stagnant lives… and each other.

The tavernkeep, Kug, is torn between duty to his family and the fate of the realm, not to mention the very real chance that all choices lead to personal ruin.

The sellsong, Talen, hides paralyzing survivor’s guilt beneath brash exuberance. If he can rescue the infant prince, will he find the resolve to restore his family name and his own sense of worth?

Dennick, the sellsword with compromised loyalties, faces an impossible choice — save the prince, or save the love of his life? Either way… will he lose everything that matters, not least himself?

Rajen is the gifted practitioner of a forbidden magickal art, forced to keep her true self hidden. The forking future holds many paths for her… will she follow the road to her future freedom, and at what cost?

And even if this disparate, desperate bunch achieve their objectives… Wresting their prize from the foul forces of a nefarious, reality-threatening plot and bringing him back alive are two different things…


Is there magic? You bet!

Crime? The whole thing’s set off by a vile act. A few, in fact.

Violence? Yes. Sudden, brutal, and final.

Intrigue? Sure! The fates of a child, a city, an empire, and maybe an entire world are at stake.

LIGHT OF THE OUTSIDER is a character-driven low fantasy with a touch of noir and just a hint of cosmic horror oozing between the cracks, as if George R. R. Martin (“Game of Thrones”) and James Ellroy (“L. A. Confidential”) had a literary love child and left the squawking sport on a filthy altar in the woods to be discovered… by you!

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An Excerpt from
Light of the Outsider

Dennick waited alone in the receiving room of Vuldt, Mouth of the Plainslord of the Alliance of Clans. For some time, he resisted the impression of eyes boring into the back of his neck.


He exhaled sharply, turned around, and looked up.

The tapestry next to the door dominated the wall, ceiling to floor. From Dennick’s position across the room, with pale and dusty morning light filtering down from the open shutters high above, it was an effective and imposing likeness of the Plainslord.

Whether it was an accurate representation, Dennick could not say. This was not his Plainslord. This was not the magn who had taken him in as an orphaned child, who had raised him as one of his sons.

This was not the magn who, unbeknownst to Dennick at the time, had ordered the raid on his parents’ garrison.

Dennick’s Plainslord was more than a year dead.

Though he’d never met Gragag’s successor, Dennick served him as surely as he had the last.

The soft brush of a door opening against carpet broke his reverie. Dennick turned around.

Vuldt entered, black eyes gleaming and a wry grin on his lips. “He doesn’t have my cousin’s shoulders. Or his range with a bow. But of course the latter is determined by the former.”

“What about his wisdom?”

Vuldt stopped, squinting, apparently giving Dennick’s somewhat impetuous question a disproportionate measure of consideration.

“That remains to be seen,” he allowed. “Although… he may match Gragag in foresight.”

Vuldt gestured for Dennick to sit on one of the big, plush floor cushions. Dennick lowered himself down.

Vuldt settled onto one of his own. He took his time arranging his green diplomat’s robe; a political gesture that ritualistically declared that this meeting was Vuldt’s to spend as he saw fit.

Dennick, who had spent many marks patiently idle before many politicians, including and not least the Mouth of the Plainslord, held a pleasant expression on his face, counted the hairs of his foster cousin’s drooping mustache, and waited.

Finally, Vuldt said, “How is Agane?”

Dennick knew the question was no more than a courtesy, and he knew Vuldt knew, too. Vuldt’s practiced adoption of Palace District niceties was even more impressive than his own, but then, the Mouth of the Plainslord had a talent for putting on his neighbor’s clothes and eating from their pantry.

Dennick invested an equal measure of civility in his response.

“Her day seems better than some. At least that was her condition when I left to answer your summons.”

Vuldt nodded minimally—as much as Dennick expected—and got to it.

“You heard about the fire.”

“I saw the smoke. Heard the bells.”

“The city will know this before tahigh: the fire was a distraction.”

Dennick knew he couldn’t rush Vuldt, and any hint he hoped to would have the adverse effect. “I would say it’s distracted everyone in Aenikantag.”

Vuldt’s lip twitched before stretching to a full grin.

“The infant Ranith was taken.”

Despite his general distaste at being Vuldt’s tool, Dennick was intrigued.

“The Alliance..?”

Vuldt shrugged. “If… we… are responsible, I was given no warning.”

Despite his dichotomous role, Dennick inwardly bristled at being included.

“A ransom?”

Vuldt shook his head, dismissive. “No. No person, no state, no organization, has declared any involvement. The kit is gone and people are dead; that’s all the Palace has revealed. I don’t have any reason to think there’s more to it than that, for now.”

“And so?”

“It doesn’t matter why Ranith has been kidnapped. The Palace is in chaos. The Alwardenal tower is gutted. Rumor has it that one of them was injured.” Vuldt’s eyes widened in delight. “Or both!”

Dennick would not have been surprised if Vuldt rubbed his palms together like a child at dessert.

The Mouth restrained himself as he continued. “The only heir of Aenik has been taken from his nursery, and the soldiers protecting the most powerful nation in Kaebrith didn’t even know he was gone until the place burned around them.”

Vuldt leaned forward. “We knew Aenik had grown soft. Now? It’s crippled.”

Dennick shifted on his cushion. Despite a lifetime of practice, he could not manage to feel balanced seated on the thing. “Vuldt… if the Plainslord is thinking of war…”

“I don’t know what he’s thinking,” Vuldt said. “Yet. As his Mouth… and his ears… it’s my responsibility to advise, and to act in the interest of the Alliance of Clans.” He jabbed an index finger in the air. “Our enemy is weak, frantic, and unsettled. Such an opportunity, Dennick, must not be squandered, or be allowed to pass… too quickly.”

Dennick waited.

“By tahigh,” Vuldt said, “word will go out across the city and throughout Aenik… even, I am led to understand, to the Faien and Gundynal outposts… that anyone bringing Ranith home safe and whole will be rewarded with the unfettered gratitude of the Alwardendyn.”

Dennick nodded. “The guard must have their own ideas as to who’s responsible. The entire country will help flush them out.”

“And you, Dennick.”

“You want me to actively search for Ranith?”

“That, and more. The longer Aenik is in disarray and so ineffectual they cannot protect—or find—their own heir, the stronger our position will be.”

“What do you want me to do, Vuldt?”

“Find the kit,” the Mouth said, “and make sure no one else does, and that Ranith is not recovered. Or returns. Ever.”

“Keep him hidden?” Dennick openly scowled. “Send him off to the Clans, you mean, and raise him in secret?”

Vuldt shrugged. “We cannot ignore the fact that a similar strategy has proven beneficial.”

Dennick wanted to break the teeth in Vuldt’s flinty smile into bloody shards.

Vuldt glanced at Dennick’s clenched fists. His smile only broadened. “And what a fine instrument you have been. But… no. I don’t want us to play such a long game.”

His smile flattened.

“If his kidnappers plan to kill him, make sure they succeed, Dennick. If they have other plans, capture the kit, and do it yourself.”

Dennick recoiled. His mouth dropped open.


“Ranith must never be reunited with the Alwardendyn. The heir must die, and all of Kaebrith must know Aenik could not protect their son.”

Dennick swallowed bile.

“You want me to murder a child.”

Vuldt’s tone was relaxed, as if he was asking Dennick to fetch him a snack. “Assuming he’s not dead already. Either way, be sure to leave the corpse somewhere public and obvious. Make it a final embarrassment for the palace guard and for the Alwardendyn.”

The proposition physically disgusted Dennick. He shook his head. “You ask a great deal of me, Vuldt. Far beyond the conditions of our arrangement to date.”

Vuldt met his eyes. “Yes.” The smile was back.

Dennick said, “What gives you the confidence I will find Ranith and his abductors before anyone else? Or that, if I do, I will be able to take him from them?”

“You don’t necessarily have to find him first. In fact,” Vuldt considered, “it might make sense to find the person or party most likely to find him, and let someone else do the hard work… so long as they never succeed in the end.”

Dennick stood up as quickly and indignantly as the cushion would allow.

“I will not. Find another.”

Vuldt leaned back, the better to look up at Dennick.

“You will. There is no one quite so capable and qualified as you. So, no, I will not find another, for there is no other to find.” Vuldt’s tone veered toward conciliatory. “I understand you find politics distasteful; the machinations of state…”

“Politics?” Dennick spat the word. He paced. “Killing babies is not politics. Do not—”

Vuldt came slowly to his feet. “This is what I mean.” He tsked. “You have no mind for this. Death has always been an instrument of governance. Babies, the elderly, the weak, the strong.” His eyes hardened. “The ill.”

He straightened his robe. “You will do this, Dennick, and once it’s done… I will not ask for anything else.”

Dennick stopped. “You would release me. The Plainslord..?”

“You were Gragag’s creature, never his.”

Dennick fell silent. A swarm of possibilities careened behind his forehead.

There had to be a way to make this all work.

Vuldt smiled. “That’s got you thinking.”

“What of Agane’s medicine?”

“Well, let me add this wind to the storm between your ears: I have learned of a healer among the Clans who, it is said, cured a boy of the wasting.”

Dennick shook his head, despairing. “Vuldt. Do not… Agane should not…” It could not be true.

Vuldt raised a stifling hand and shook his head. “Do this last thing, Dennick, and not only will you be released from all this covert Palace District drama, I will guarantee passage for you and Agane to meet with this healer.”

Dennick’s hands flapped at his sides.

“How long have you known?” His voice sounded harsh and black to his own ears. “Vuldt. About the healer.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s not important. One hears things.”

Dennick understood. The monster had been holding this token until he had something on which to spend it.

Dennick need never again doubt his assessment of his ward-cousin. This last footnote completed a thick tome of abomination and cruelty.


If there was even a chance to save Agane…

Dennick felt as though a heavy cloak had fallen across his sagging shoulders. If he must wear it, he would make it serve. Somehow.

He spoke from the least part of himself.

“All right, Vuldt.”

Vuldt studied him long enough for Dennick to draw and release four tremulous breaths.

The Mouth of the Plainslord then lowered himself back to his cushion with practiced, deliberately languid grace. He made a show of investigating some undoubtedly imaginary spot on his robe.

“All right, then, Dennick.”

Dennick straightened. “Is that all?”

Vuldt nodded. “Just to say: this is a very delicate situation, all around. The Alliance cannot be seen to be complicit. And, as I said, the heir cannot be allowed to return to his parents.”

“As you said.”

“No. Hear me, Dennick.” He looked up at his instrument. “If you fail… in every way that matters, the result will be the same: you will be released, and Agane will no longer suffer. Do you understand me?”

“You’re threatening her?”

There was no thought driving the impulse. One blink, Dennick stood there, enduring. The next, cushions scattered and he was on one knee, a hand around Vuldt’s throat.

Vuldt’s eyes bulged, but he was calm. He didn’t even raise his hands.

“Who lingers,” he rasped, “near your heartfast while we speak here? Do you wonder? What are their instructions, do you think, should I meet some unexpected… inconvenience..?”

Dennick released him and stood in one smooth, unbroken movement.

He seethed.

There had to be a way to make it work.

There had to be a way.

Vuldt adjusted his collar and threw a loaded look past Dennick, to the door.

“Move your feet, Sword. Things will happen quickly come tahigh, and you’ll need to be nimble.”

Dennick saw the impressions of his fingers on Vuldt’s neck. There might be bruising.

Nowhere near enough.

It would have to do for now.

Dennick found he was not compelled to so much as glance at the Plainslord’s tapestry on his way out.


In the minds of many in the Palace District, Dennick was that magn raised as a prisoner of the fierce and bloodthirsty Plainslord of the Alliance of Clans; a victim of violence restored to civilization through deft diplomacy.

Others thought of him as the Sword whose childhood in the Clans gave him martial skills like few others in Aenik; the outsider whose students included most of the Palace Guard.

Above all, everyone knew him as the heartfast of Agane, the most admired and sought-after artist in the city.

Agane’s paintings were part of the Alwardendyn’s private collection and hung in the homes and wagons of dozens of merchants and caravanteers. To hold a gathering and not invite Agane was to risk disappointing your other guests. Last year, when Agane entered the dining hall at a feast celebrating the conception of the heir of Aenik, no one held hand to shoulder with her longer than Alwarden Deanae herself.

Agane was a treasure of Aenikantag. Now that the fact of her illness was widely known and she would likely produce no new work, those who possessed her art displayed it with an uncomfortable blend of delight and shame.

Dennick knew his heartfast’s wealthy admirers viewed him as Agane’s fascinating accessory; the affectation of an eccentric artist. The orphan raised by savages (the stuff of tavern songs!) who still accepted payment to teach others how to fight when Agane’s talent and fame surely brought their household more than enough wealth and status.

Could he even read and write?

The professional respect of the palace guard, and the somehow dismissive fascination of the Palace District elite, served Dennick very well in both his everyday life and the covert efforts he grudgingly pursued as Vuldt’s instrument. That his heartfast enjoyed more attention and affection… he minded that not at all.

Now Dennick’s dual loyalties had finally brought peril to Agane. As if she had no other burden!

Dennick ruminated on all of this, and on the impossible choice ahead of him, as he approached their home. His chest ached.

He passed through their gateway and frowned at the state of their garden. Agane had designed it as a living artwork, but had not been strong enough to tend to it for some time. Whenever she felt well enough to venture outside, she preferred to stay in, where applying pigments to stretched hide would always take priority.

Dennick had suggested hiring some help, but Agane was not ready to let another artist work her canvas. So, as unwanted growth obscured the delicate beauty inherent in its design and designer, the garden grew more and more unkempt. To Dennick, it was still an expression of the artist; a way for the world to reflect on the state of the gardener.

Still. He often wished for a taller fence.

“Agane,” he called as he came into their home, “I have returned.”

He could tell her cheery tone was the product of effort. “Here, Dennick.”

He followed the sound of her voice. The closer he came to her making room, the more he dared to hope. “Are you painting..?”

From the doorway, he saw her standing before her easel. A smile bloomed on his lips.

Her own lips fluttered before she said, “I was.”

He entered the room and saw.

Her arms hung limp at her sides, a pigment stick barely held between stiff fingers. Her legs were oddly placed, as if she had begun to take a step or shift her balance, but stopped. He could see her thighs trembling beneath her trousers.

He held out his arms even as she said, with a hint of apology, “I cannot move.”

He put his big hands at her waist and she sagged into his support. Her legs remained locked in place.

“How long?” Dennick kept an arm around her and gently took the pigment stick from her hand. He tossed it on a nearby table.

“Some time.” Her cheeks reddened. “I… I have to make water.”

“Should I carry..?” She hated that. “Or..?”

Her eyes glistened when she looked up at him. “I think you need to.”

He kissed her forehead and tasted stale sweat.

“Then I shall.”

He cradled Agane’s legs at the back of her knees and lifted her in his arms. Her legs lost their stiffness as soon as her feet left the ground. She sighed through clenched teeth.

“Apparently,” she said, “the episode has passed.”

“Good that I arrived when I did.” Dennick carried her through the hall. “You might have fallen.”

They both feared the day her thinning bones and inexorably defiant muscles finally betrayed her.

Outside the toilet, he said, “Can you..?”

“I can.” She smiled gamely and waved her legs back and forth in the air. “See? Just get me in there and close the door.”

Dennick eased her down. She steadied herself with a hand against the wall.

They stood looking at each other.

Agane laughed.

“You are a good magn.” She shooed him with a wave of her hand. “Out. Close the door. But best you don’t go far.”

“I’ll be right here.” Dennick closed the door between them.

He stared at it and pushed despair down his tight throat.

From within, Agane said, “You weren’t gone long. Anything you can tell your heartfast about your morning, or is it some affair too sensitive to share?”

She was his heartfast in all ways, and had always known her medicines were bought at the cost of his obligation to Vuldt. Still, Dennick flinched when he thought of what had been asked of him.


She opened the door. He knew his face would betray trepidation, but turned away too late. Perhaps he wanted her to see.

“Hm.” She nodded slowly. “You’re troubled.” She held out her hand and he took it. “Come. The worst has passed, but I’m exhausted. Sit with me and tell me what you can.”

The way she took to caring for him when it was he who should be doting on her… he swallowed hard and led her to a couch in their reception room.

Once they were seated, she said, “So. Unburden yourself, my heartfast.”

Dennick squeezed his temples with one hand. “Agane…” He dropped the hand into his lap and she took it in her own. “Vuldt’s schemes have made me into a monster. Or soon will.”

He told her about Ranith’s kidnapping, and what the Mouth of Plainslord had charged him to do.

She did not release his hand. She did not relax, or tighten, her delicate, but firm, grip. The only change was in the brightness of her eyes.

He dipped his head. “I know. I know.”

She made a low sound in her throat. “How can Vuldt expect to be sure you would find the ones responsible?” She shook her head. “You see what this is, do you not? He is finished with you. He wants you to fail. To find a way to be rid of you.”

“It occurred to me,” Dennick said. “Even when I was a child, he was never anything less than dismissive of me, and often unkind. My service to him was the Plainslord’s directive—our Plainslord—but Gragag is gone, and who knows what the new leader of the Clans wants of me? Or Vuldt?”

Agane was silent. Dennick knew she was letting him think, to work through the tangle.

Dennick did so aloud.

“But Vuldt, thistleskink that he is notwithstanding, is loyal to the Clans and an enemy of Aenik creche to coffin. This situation… it’s the best opportunity he’s ever had. To be able to deal a vicious blow to the Alwardendyn and impress the new Plainslord… I cannot believe he would risk that just to doom me.”

He looked at her hand, and her open and kind face. He looked down.

She spoke gently. “You have not told me everything.”

He shook his head. “I have always known Vuldt is ruthless and cruel. Why was I surprised to hear him include you in his trap?”

Agane’s brow creased lightly. “I am the knife he holds at your back.”

“No…” Dennick protested.

“The medicines he provides, then. We know this.”

“Beyond that,” Dennick said, “there are consequences to success and failure, both.”

“He’s threatening you? Really? You could snap him in half.”

Dennick inclined his head and smiled slightly. “Perhaps. But I cannot defend against a dart in the dark.”

He sighed.

“Here it is. Yes, if I refuse or fail and Ranith is rescued and returned to the Alwardendyn, my life—and yours, Agane—is forfeit. But if I succeed—”

She shook her head. “You cannot consider it.”

“Wait, please. If I succeed… my service with him will be completed. He will release me. And…” He sighed again, through clenched teeth. “Agane, there are wisdom riders out there on the plains. They have ways… lore that others have lost.” He put his other hand gently on her own. “Vuldt will tell us how to find one who can heal you.”

Hope flashed on her face for barely a blink before disgust and skepticism twisted her expression. “Dennick, you cannot believe that. He hates you, and delights in his hatred. Even if such a person exists somewhere out there, how could you possibly trust Vuldt?”

“I know. I know!” Frustration and desperation clawed at him and made him twist where he sat. “But if there is any chance at all..!”

“Dennick. Look at me.”

He met her bright, angry eyes.

“You cannot kill a child, Dennick.”


“You. Cannot.”

“It might not come to that. I only need to ensure he’s never rescued.” He hated that his next thought was also his strongest hope. “He may already be dead.”

She pulled her hand free of his so she could gesticulate. “And if he is not? There is no path that doesn’t end in Vuldt having you killed, Dennick; can you not see that? What have we to gain?”

He regarded her.

Her face was drawn, both with anger and exhaustion. Shadows smudged her eyes. Her long hair—the color of deepwood that had once shone in health—was heavy and limp with sweat from her earlier ordeal.

She would always be the most beautiful magn he had ever seen.

“Your health.”

“There’s no—”

He held up a hand. “A chance! More than we had before today, Agane! There’s a chance! I heard stories; the wisdom rider in my own camp was undeniably capable of remarkable things…” He leaned forward and tried to retake her hands, but she folded them in her lap.

The rejection wounded him. He fell back, for the moment, spent.

Her face softened. “We should go away.”

He pursed his lips and shook his head. “We cannot run. We are too well known; the city gates will by now be closed to entrance and exit for the duration, and while I might have another option in that regard… we would not be able to move fast enough.”

“Well.” She seemed too tired to be more than lightly offended. “You could.”

“You would be killed by day’s end.”

“Dennick.” She looked at him as if he were stupid. “I am dying.”

“How could I possibly do anything to hasten that?” He felt sick. “Agane, there is a chance you could live! We have been given a chance!”

“No. Even if Vuldt is true to his pledge, I will not pay his price.” Her eyes were wide, angry, and imploring. “Dennick, they are our friends!”

“And you,” he said. “You are my life.”

She pressed her body against his chest. He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head.

She said, “This is impossible. All of it. We are back at the start: you have no real chance of finding Ranith. And so, no matter what, Vuldt will be rid of you. Of… us.”

There was nothing Dennick dared to say aloud.

Agane added, “I will not give him the satisfaction of a painful death. His assassins will find the job already done.”

Dennick understood. “Do not say such things.”

“I mean it.”

“Even if you mean it. I cannot bear to hear it.”

This was not their first exploration of the topic. Thankfully, she opted for silence. For now.

They held each other for a time. Dennick breathed her in, and thought.

She was almost certainly correct when it came to Vuldt’s ultimate objective, even if Dennick somehow managed to execute the Mouth’s vile plan.

And yet.

Dennick knew from experience that unrecognized options were only revealed in the course of action.

There could be a path upon which everything worked out.

There might be.

But could he go down the road that led to Ranith’s blood on his hands… on hope alone?

Very quietly, Agane said, “You cannot kill a child, Dennick. Please promise me.”

His chest seemed to break apart with perfect love for this magn.

He blinked tears. One fell into her hair. She gave no indication that she noticed.

“There may be another way,” he said. “One unknown to us for now.”

“No matter,” she said. “Please, Dennick.”

He held her tighter, mindful of her aching muscles.

“I promise, Agane.”

Despite her knowledge and acceptance of his secret and irreconcilable double loyalty, and perhaps because of her gradual dependence on it, he had not shared his every act and deed across the years. It was better, sometimes, that ignorance shield them, and their love.

In all their time together, though, he had never directly lied to Agane.

Until today.

Name Your Price!